Established industries are often disrupted. Consider technology’s disruption of stock markets and traditional travel agencies, or streaming services’ disruption of the entertainment industry.

In every case, the incumbents argued, “It’s not as easy as dismantling the status quo and starting over.” And, yet, every time the upstarts did exactly that, and the dinosaurs eventually became extinct.

Today, disruption is happening not only in marketing but also in the business world overall, and C-suite must take note.

In classic organizations, executives establish goals and overarching strategy; then, Manufacturing, Research and Development, and Design put together plans on how to hit those goals. Meanwhile, IT, Marketing, Finance, and other “support” departments determine the budget they will need to both meet the organization’s goals and answer the needs of the main business departments.


Marketing’s plans in that scenario are thus fractured, and they become mortar to the company’s other bricks. They rarely communicate how marketing efforts connect directly to the business’s goals.

If that sounds like you, watch out.

Why the Traditional Role of Marketing in Business Must Change


In today’s world, the traditional role of marketing in business hasn’t just been flipped on its head, it’s been reimagined entirely.

Now, the first step a brand takes with a Version 1.0 product is marketing—i.e., finding out how customers interact with a brand. What do they like and dislike? How much do they spend? How often do they buy?

As a company learns more about its customers’ behaviors, it is able to define a total revenue goal for various customer types.

From there, Finance, Marketing, and Technology work together to build a tech stack for customer acquisition targets by customer type—and the marketing budget quite naturally falls out of those needs. Technology supports and drives Marketing and Finance by enabling insights and connections across the enterprise; and then R&D, Manufacturing, and Design learn not only from Marketing’s insights but also from Finance’s analysis to iterate and develop even better products.

That isn’t to say that Marketing or Finance is the center of an organization; it’s to say that all departments contribute to the organization in a meaningful capacity.

As a marketer today, if you ask what your budget is, you will get blank stares because budgets are defined in terms of the cost to acquire a new customer or achieve retention goals.

For example, in the acquisition stage, your marketing budget might be $10. Per customer acquired, of course. That requires knowing the total addressable market, the products, and the buyer personas.

It’s the opposite of complex; in fact, it’s the easiest way to do marketing ever, because never before have we had the information and capability to learn, analyze, and iterate at this scale!

How Marketers Can Avoid Irrelevance

Marketers must take a step back and re-evaluate their processes and their role in business by moving from “What’s my budget?” to “What’s my revenue target?”

First, get in the habit of working closely with Finance, and know the numbers. How much revenue comes from current customers vs. new customers? What is the churn rate? What is customers’ lifetime value? Is there a handle on what it truly costs to acquire a new customer today?

It’s also important to operate with an “incrementality only” mindset. Marketing can’t take credit for every purchase. Costco is a great example of a company that has grown successfully without doing any advertising and by doing minimal marketing; that’s because its products are good and can practically sell themselves. If Costco began to spend $100,000 per month and then divided that amount by new customer signups, it would be an overly optimistic and false view into the cost of driving new customers—if Marketing were actually driving new customers at all!

By continually A/B-testing and measuring incremental results, companies will begin to understand the true cost of acquiring and retaining customers. And knowing is the first step toward improvement.

Also, operating with bits and pieces of information is better than operating with no information at all. Maybe you know only how much churn costs, and that’s OK. Segment off part of your budget to specifically address that. Use incrementality testing and piece together the true costs to see the bigger picture.

Finally, set a “from this point on” amnesty agreement. You may have been telling your C-suite that you’re acquiring customers for $1.50 when in reality it’s $10. Execs will be thrilled to have accurate information, and they will support improving marketing from then on. They likely didn’t believe the $1.50 figure anyway, and if you also provide a plan to grow the business that profitably acquires customers for $10, you’ll be the hero, not the party-killer.

* * *

When you begin to rethink the role of marketing in business in the ways mentioned in this article, then respect from the board, CEO, and CFO will fall into place, expanding Marketing’s influence and giving you more authority to create great work.

More Resources on the Role of Marketing in Business

Why You Need to Align Marketing to Business Goals

Six Tips for Moving From B2B Marketer to Solutions Architect (And Why You Should)

The Evolving Role of the CMO (And All Marketers): Five Guiding Principles

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